“Let’s cut the small talk, I’ll do it myself.” For many in food service, this is the sentiment that customers are signaling. Restaurants are finding success in giving more autonomy to customers, leveraging technology to put customer service in the hands of the customer through self-service and automation.
Automation is making the exchange between business and consumer more streamlined, even with less human interaction. QSRs, in particular, are finding that adopting customer-facing automation resonates with consumers who are more connected with the digital space than ever, and are constantly looking for time-saving innovations.
The struggle becomes finding the perfect balance between robot and human. While some customers welcome the prompt and accurate service which restaurants now rely heavily on automation to provide, others find this atmosphere can feel cold and unwelcoming. The dynamic is ever-shifting; at present, however, a present, smiling employee is no longer considered a pre-requisite to a good customer experience.
As the perceptions and adoption of automation evolve, we at CultureWaves are monitoring how businesses will balance the customer experience in the midst of ever-evolving service standards and expectations.
Pizza Hut, for example, is giving customers the opportunity to skip out on employee interaction with its new cubby pickup system. Customers can order through any available method at the Hollywood, CA test location—through the company app, online, over the phone or in person. Once ordered and paid for, customers simply head to their personal cubby to pick up their order. Pizza Hut believes that by eliminating lines, the wait, and the interaction they can deliver what customers really want: their pizza—with as few barriers as possible.
Many QSR’s have been slowly incorporating elements of automation into the ordering experience, be it at the drive-thru or inside, and Taco Bell is one of those jumping head-long into ordering automation. The restaurant has committed to installing self-serve ordering kiosks in all of its almost 7000 locations by the end of 2019.
No discussion of automation would be complete without autonomous vehicles, and Domino’s Pizza aims to begin testing autonomous delivery in Houston, TX. The small and nimble delivery vehicle is the creation of Nuro, an up-and-coming artificial intelligence startup. The use of these vehicles gives customers the ability to track their order from store to home, using a customer-specific PIN to unlock a container with their order.
These restaurants are capitalizing on the digital nature of today’s consumers. Automation is less about minimalizing interaction with other humans and, instead, is about delivering a service that is quick and convenient. The human touch is still an important part of many restaurant’s overall strategy, but the infusion of digital automation is impossible to ignore.
The future will likely hold autonomous innovation in areas where restaurants can save money, time, and labor while still delivering a personalized and effective customer experience. Automation in food service could feel as natural as microwaves and ATMs. The robots aren’t taking over the world, but they are certainly going to be serving your needs in some of your favorite restaurants.